Hidden Gems: Five Exceptional Virginia Wineries in Your Backyard
With spring upon us, the allure of the outdoors begins to return to the city, enticing residents to get some fresh air after months of staying indoors.
While the District offers great options for spring activities, there’s nothing like taking a day trip to the Virginia wineries. The country’s oldest wine region is as an oft-overlooked niche for award-winning takes on established French varietals- and it’s just a car ride away.
Here are our recommendations for the best off-the-beaten-path wineries within an hour of the Beltway.
Sunset Hills Winery
I cringe every time a winery is described as idyllic, nestled, or rustic. Yet these words reflexively come to mind as you stroll up to the tasting room at Sunset Hills.
Once an Amish farmstead, the original buildings, and surrounding property have undergone small restorations to preserve their 19th-century authenticity– providing a scenic backdrop as you engage in not-so-Amish recreation.
As a fairly established winery, Sunset Hills has had time to refine their wine-making process and keep close tabs on each year’s growth. All their grapes are grown in Virginia, mainly on the property or in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Tasting Room Manager Kate Thuss gave us her picks.
“For whites, our Viognier is a classic Virginia grape with stone fruit notes, light citrus taste, and a hint of sweetness, providing a light refreshing profile. As for reds, the Reserve Cab Franc has a fruit-forward Bordeaux blend that comes off as both silky and smoky.”
While usually low-key, Sunset Hills is popular on weekends, often hosting events or live music mid-spring to mid-fall.
The tasting room can get crowded during peak hours, but there’s plenty of grass space to sprawl out and picnic. Check out their events calendar before planning your trip, as Sunset Hills is popular for weddings and other private events.
Quattro Goomba’s Winery
Italian for “Four Friends”, Quattro Goomba’s began, as most Italian stories do, with family recipes.
Jay DeCianno grew up making wine at home with his father for personal use. In response to positive feedback from friends, they scaled up to wholesale distribution, then began leasing property in Aldie to become a full-blown winery; then came the pizzeria, then the craft brewery. More utilitarian than scenic, Quattro Goomba’s consists of a few nondescript buildings backdropped by pastures. Aesthetic considerations clearly took a backseat to the heart of the operation: quality wine, food, and brew.
While most of their grapes are grown locally, they incorporate varieties from the West Coast as well as Chile and are processed on site using traditional methods from the old country.Drawing from Nonno DeCianno’s recipe, Vino del Nonni blends two reds and a white – a style popular among first-generation Italian-Americans back in the day.
Another mainstay is the Tradizione, a blend of big red varietals such as petit verdots, zinfandels aged in bourbon barrels per another family recipe. The rest of the selection is noticeably eclectic relative to other wineries in the region. Due to the olio of regions from which grapes are sourced as well as the propensity to tinker, DeCianno regards this as a defining aspect of Quattro Goomba’s. “It’s how we grew up. We try to make it approachable and comfortable for people to come in, try new things, and share our experience through wine, craft beers, and food.”
Some wineries are modeled around emphasizing the place over the product (though you won’t find them here), selling the winery experience rather than the wine. Quattro Goomba’s is precisely the opposite: the facilities are there to house the means of production, and to keep people from getting rained on during tastings. Their unabashed commitment to continually experiment, and singular focus on their creations is what makes the winery-pizzeria-brewpub worth a visit.
Naked Mountain Winery
As a general rule, quirky names and eccentric labels are red flags when it comes to wine quality. While this is almost always the case, Naked Mountain stands as an exception. Don’t let the name fool you – the mountainside estate produces some formidable vintages. For those looking to escape the bustle, this is the ideal spot for a mental palate cleanse or romantic day trip. Naked Mountain is the smallest winery on this list, and is certainly the coziest. It’s literally a chalet on the side of a mountain with a massive fireplace inside.
Naked Mountain is the smallest winery on this list, and is certainly the coziest. It’s literally a chalet on the side of a mountain with a massive fireplace inside.
Vineyard Manager Don Oldham ran us through Naked Mountain’s A Team. “The petit verdot is a full-bodied red with dark fruit characteristics, smooth tannins, and chocolaty toasty notes from the time spent in barrels.” Their Raptor Red, a subtly earthy Bordeaux, is another favorite. As for whites? “Our barrel-fermented chardonnay is our flagship wine – our one consistent product that we make year in and year out. It’s a medium-full bodied white with slight acidity and Golden Delicious.” Additionally, the Catamount Run White is a tart blend reminiscent of a New Zealand Sav Blanc.
It’s a medium-full bodied white with slight acidity and Golden Delicious.” Additionally, the Catamount Run White is a tart blend reminiscent of a New Zealand Sav Blanc.
Naked Mountain’s seclusion ensures a placid atmosphere no matter when you visit, and it’s less than an hour from the Beltway. In the time it takes to get from Georgetown to Capitol South during rush hour, you can be worlds away, sipping Cab Franc in front of an oversized hearth. Think about that next time you’re stuck on the Orange Line during a Safetrack surge.
The Winery at La Grange
A few miles off 66, La Grange is a stone’s throw past the western edge of suburban sprawl. Just the place if you want to take in the countryside without actually driving to the middle of nowhere.
Though La Grange sources grapes from Virginia, California, and Washington to broaden their selection beyond the French varieties commonly grown here, Wine Club Director Katie Lee explained how local grapes ended up producing their most formidable red.
“We’re really proud of our Cabernet Sauvignon because we predominantly used our grapes for the first time. They’re from a young vineyard and that’s drinking fantastic as a great representation of a Virginia Cab Sav.” Well-rounded and well-regarded at La Grange, the Cuvee Blanc is a balancing act between floral silkiness and subtle crispness, resulting in a gustatory tour de force that will leave you with a newfound respect for white wine.
More than anything, La Grange offers a variety of options. Feeling active? Explore the estate, debate the existence of spirits, or walk around quoting Ghostbusters until your inner child is satisfied. In a laid back mood? Post up in one of the historic parlor rooms or lounge on the hillside overlooking acres of vineyard.
If open air meadows and natural surroundings is your scene, 50 West is a prime example of minimalism done right. The tasting room is a no-frills converted stable situated atop a bluff in the middle of horse country. A subtle structure that compels visitors to take in the natural scenery from the expansive lawn.
50 West boasts one of the largest vineyards in the region, and has produced solid wines since its inception. The spacious vistas and soothing breeze from across the valley are downright therapeutic.
The winemakers recommend exploring their reds during the winter. They’re best known for their award-winning Aldie Heights Cuvee, which earned accolades in the winery’s first year. For fans of white wine, their mostly stainless steel chardonnay is a surprisingly light and crisp profile for the grape.
“Even people who don’t like chardonnay like our chardonnay,” says Assistant Manager Christen Garland. Most of the grapes at 50 West are French varieties; which pair effortlessly with the assortment of Amish cheeses and freshly baked French bread offered.
50 West is rarely crowded. Though because of its sprawling hilltop position, noise seems to slip down the knoll even when filled to capacity. You’ll want to sit outside, so check the weather before making the trip. The smaller setting provides an intimate feel and ensures unrushed customer service whether you’re doing a tasting or getting recommendations.
Featured photo by Armando Castillejos